Power and the Internet

Power and the Internet, from Bruce Schneier.

It’s not all one-sided. The masses can occasionally organize around a specific issue — SOPA/PIPA, the Arab Spring, and so on — and can block some actions by the powerful. But it doesn’t last. The unorganized go back to being unorganized, and powerful interests take back the reins.
Debates over the future of the Internet are morally and politically complex. How do we balance personal privacy against what law enforcement needs to prevent copyright violations? Or child pornography? Is it acceptable to be judged by invisible computer algorithms when being served search results? When being served news articles? When being selected for additional scrutiny by airport security? Do we have a right to correct data about us? To delete it? Do we want computer systems that forget things after some number of years? These are complicated issues that require meaningful debate, international cooperation, and iterative solutions. Does anyone believe we’re up to the task?
We’re not, and that’s the worry. Because if we’re not trying to understand how to shape the Internet so that its good effects outweigh the bad, powerful interests will do all the shaping. The Internet’s design isn’t fixed by natural laws. Its history is a fortuitous accident: an initial lack of commercial interests, governmental benign neglect, military requirements for survivability and resilience, and the natural inclination of computer engineers to build open systems that work simply and easily. This mix of forces that created yesterday’s Internet will not be trusted to create tomorrow’s. Battles over the future of the Internet are going on right now: in legislatures around the world, in international organizations like the International Telecommunications Union and the World Trade Organization, and in Internet standards bodies. The Internet is what we make it, and is constantly being recreated by organizations, companies, and countries with specific interests and agendas. Either we fight for a seat at the table, or the future of the Internet becomes something that is done to us.

An open letter to peaceful protesters

An open letter to peaceful protesters, at Vancouver Media Co-op. via Lisa B

Another distinction that is important to make between peace movements of the past and protest movements of today is the level of organization. When people think of the Civil Rights Movement, the first thing to come to mind should not be “peaceful.” It should be “organized.” The Civil Rights Movement was highly organized through pre-existing networks of church and school groups. Civil Rights organizers led frequent non-violent civil disobedience trainings all over the country. They organized intensively in communities for years to get to the point of wide scale protests and actions. An example is the Rosa Parks and the bus incident: it is often thought that Rosa Parks sparked a movement by her refusal to move to the back of the bus. In reality, Rosa Parks was trained and groomed to take on that role, as was the larger movement prepared to step into action behind her. This was not a spontaneous event gone ‘viral.’ It was well planned and coordinated. As was the Civil Rights Movement overall: it was not based on public call outs to who ever could show up. To go to a civil rights demonstration participants were instructed and trained at workshops, and they literally signed a contract to abide by specific rules of conduct.